Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Pilot Turned Principal Is off to a Flying Start

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Pilot Turned Principal Is off to a Flying Start

Article excerpt

Serving in Afghanistan inspired Terry Jones to swap his stellar RAF career for a more grounded role as a college leader

When you walk into the office of Terry Jones, the new principal of Peterborough Regional College, one of the first things to catch your eye is a dagger mounted on the wall.

It's a far cry from the usual framed Investors in People award. But then Jones doesn't have a typical principal's CV. He has spent the past 32 years in the RAF, after joining to train as a pilot at 18 and rising to the rank of air commodore. In his final RAF role, he was responsible for all formal flying training in the British military, including for the world-famous Red Arrows display team.

The dagger, Jones says, is a memento of his time as a Tornado squadron leader. It is one half of a squadron badge that also features a lynx's head. The sharp-eyed lynx symbolises the squadron's reconnaissance role, while the dagger represents its exacting standards. "When we strike, we do it with precision," Jones explains.

So what makes a former fighter pilot want to run a further education college? His education and training background in the RAF is a factor, Jones explains, but he was also inspired by his experiences serving in Afghanistan.

"I saw what people were going through to access education and the risks that they were running - it was kind of an awakening for me," he says. "When you looked at what was happening in the space where we created safety and security, the most powerful force was education by a country mile."

Taliban attack

Jones describes a school in a village north of Kandahar, which came under attack by the Taliban. Children were targeted by improvised explosive devices rigged at chest height, but only one of the detonators went off, injuring one child.

"You would probably think that would bring education at that place to a stop, that the parents wouldn't risk sending their children back there in future," he says. "But the reverse was true. They were back there within a week, running that risk. Because they know...that social progress and education are bound up together. That made a deep impression on me."

The FE system, too, has made a strong impression on Jones since he began his new role in the summer. Moving to Peterborough, he found that almost everyone he met had a connection to the college. "It's physically in the heart of the city but it's in the front of people's minds as well," he says. "Everybody has either been here or knows somebody that's been here."

Despite his background, Jones has no plans to apply stereotypical notions of military discipline to education. "I'm not one of these people who subscribes to 'we want discipline in the classroom, so bring military people in'. I think that's just way, way too simplistic," Jones says.

'Embracing technology'

In fact, training in the military isn't as much about old-fashioned virtues as it may seem. A second picture on Jones' wall illustrates the point. It shows Hawk aircraft on a training exercise, but the scene the pilots are dealing with is very different from the serene landscape ahead of them, because simulation software on their instrument displays is generating mock enemy attacks.

Military training today is defined by high-tech approaches, adaptive learning styles and close mentoring, Jones says. "When you come in from the military, people are expecting an authoritarian, non-consultative, command-led approach, but that's not really how we work any more," he adds. …

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